2014 Lent 35

consolation

II Corinthians 1:1-7

Consolation.

There is a wonderful picture of consolation that comes from today’s reading in II Corinthians.

But first, I offer some background.

The word is related to solace, which is a kind of comfort in a time of affliction.  The prefix con- means with, or alongside; so putting them together we see a sort of empathetic comfort.  There’s community here: others are involved in comforting the one in affliction.

Think of a consolation prize.  It is given by one person, a judge, to another, a contestant, who didn’t place, but still to acknowledge the contestant’s hard work and participation.  The contestant supposedly draws some empathetic comfort from the prize (the judge, at least, knows how much work went into it) despite it not being a trophy.

(I think this is the idea behind a consolation prize anyway.  But it hardly played out that way for me when as a boy I came in fourth place in a piano competition.  Here the so-called consolation prize served more as a reminder that I wasn’t quite good enough!)

But here’s the thing: consolation goes both ways.  That is, when we’re in a time of affliction (as I was as a boy pianist), we want consolation, something from which we can derive comfort.  This can come from an object, such as a prize, or a person who offers consolation to us through words, a hug, whatever.

Yet on the other hand, when we’re in times of comfort, we can offer consolation to others who are experiencing some affliction or other.

Both sides of consolation are thus active: the afflicted reaches for it; the comfortable offers it.

Consolation, then, is a bridge between comfort and affliction.

Now here’s where my creative mind begins to take over.  For I picture a bridge that crosses a deep and swift river.  And on either side of the bridge sits a town.  One town, let’s say the one on the north side, is relaxed and easy going, characterized by kindness, goodness, and beauty.  The other, South Town, is stress-filled, perhaps overly dramatic, characterized by anxiety and hardship.

The people who live in this region really inhabit both towns.  That is, each resident has a house in North Town and another in South Town.  Everybody really wants to live and spend all their time in North Town, but certain obligations and responsibilities require them to travel back and forth daily over the bridge between the two towns.

Sometimes the obligations in South Town are many, so many, in fact, that a resident ends up having to spend the night there.  It happens to everyone, sometimes frequently, which is why all the inhabitants have residences in both towns.

Occasionally the obligations become so great, so burdensome, that a resident ends up spending a week or more in South Town, sometimes even losing hope that he will ever be able to get back across the bridge and do what he really wants to do–spend time with his family, tinker in the garage, read some books, maybe even write one, play a few musical instruments, play catch in the yard with his son, laze away a summer afternoon in the pool, and so on.  (Of course, this is my version of North Town.  You have every right to make up your own version.)

When this happens–when someone is overly burdened by the obligations of South Town–intervention becomes necessary; a team of volunteers, usually comprised of friends and family, but often of pastoral types too, must cross the bridge into South Town and rescue said obligation-buried resident by carrying him (or her) back over the bridge into North Town.

But it’s risky work.  For most times one of the intervention team falls away, turns aside, or otherwise suddenly remembers an obligation she (or he) must now tend to in South Town; and she ends up stuck there for a week or more until another intervention team must make a rescue.

And the cycle repeats itself.

Anyway, these two towns’ real names are Comfort and Affliction, and the bridge between them is Consolation.  May we console and be consoled by others.

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